Remember when you were in school and Officer Friendly came to class and told you , “the police officer is your friend?”
Some are. Some aren’t.
A North Carolina police officer who authorities say fatally shot an unarmed man as he sought assistance after he crashed his vehicle early Saturday morning has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the man’s death.
Authorities in Charlotte say former Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University football player Jonathan Ferrell appears to have crashed his car down an embankment about 2:30 a.m. and then knocked on the door of a nearby residence shortly after looking for help.
The homeowner opened the door thinking it was her husband. When she realized it was 24-year-old Ferrell – a stranger – she closed the door and called 911, according to reports.
When officers arrived, they found Ferrell a short distance from the home, and he matched a description given by the homeowner, police said.
The statement said officers approached Ferrell to investigate the original call. Ferrell ran toward the officers and one officer fired a taser, however it failed to discharge, police said.
Ferrell continued to run toward police when Officer Randall Kerrick, 27, fired his weapon, hitting Ferrell several times, according to WSOC. Ferrell was pronounced dead at the scene.
Authorities said Kerrick fired his weapon with ‘excessive’ and ‘unlawful’ force.
A wrecked vehicle was later discovered in woods nearby.
‘We believe that vehicle belonged to the individual who was shot. It’s quite possible he was seeking assistance. Based on his accident, it was a pretty serious accident,’ Monroe said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said the accident was so serious Ferrell would have been forced to climb out of the back window of the vehicle, WSOC reported. He apparently walked to the nearest house and banged on the door.
Monroe told a news conference that he didn’t think Ferrell was trying to rob the woman.
‘I don’t believe threats were made,’ the chief said.
‘He is pretty shook up,’ the chief said. ‘He’s devastated.’
Kerrick has been with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police since April 2011.
Monroe said at a news conference that Kerrick was in custody. Police say he was charged with voluntary manslaughter after an investigation found that the shooting was excessive. He handed himself in on Saturday.
‘The evidence revealed that Mr Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr Ferrell was excessive,’ police said in a statement issued late Saturday.
‘Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.’
Two other officers at the scene have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a probe into the shooting, according to the station.
This isn’t simply a tragedy. It’s a travesty and it stinks like hell.
The word online is what happened to Jonathan Ferrell is a shadow of what happened to Trayvon Martin and I really don’t want to see those shadows. No shadows, no echoes, no reminders, no similarities, none of it.
I want to assume this was a senseless case of mistaken identity and intentions. But I don’t know if I can make that assumption. Let’s recap the story as it appeared in The Charlotte Observer.
Ferrell moved to Charlotte in February after a stint at FAMU where he played safety on the school’s football team. He worked two jobs, one at Best Buy and another at Dillard’s department store.
Police said he drove a black Toyota Camry down a street that leads to the community’s pool, clubhouse and tennis courts. But the car crashed into an embankment about 2 a.m., police said. Investigators said they found no indication of alcohol use, but are waiting for toxicology tests.
I’m going to assume Ferrell was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when his car ended up in an embankment at 2:00 a.m. It is possible he was, but I’ll assume he wasn’t until we know differently.
Ferrell apparently climbed out of the back window of his mangled car, police said. It was unclear whether he was injured, but he walked to a house just visible over the crest of a hill, about a quarter-mile away.
He started “banging on the door viciously,” according to Monroe.
I’m going to assume the police are not exaggerating when they say Ferrell banged on the door “viciously” of a residence he wandered to. But I have a problem with the phrase “viciously.” That is a pretty powerful descriptor. As a writer I know well how changing knocking on a door from “urgently” to “viciously” has an entirely different meaning.
Why is it “unclear” if Ferrell was injured in the crash? I assume we have to wait for the coroners report to decide what injuries were caused by the car wreck and which were caused by being shot down by the cop.
The woman who lives there at first thought the man knocking on the door was her husband, coming home late from work. But police said when she saw Ferrell, she thought he was a robber. She dialed 911, asking for officers to come to her home in the 7500 block of Reedy Creek Road.
I will make another assumption here: It’s 2:00 in the morning. Someone’s knocking/pounding on the door. Maybe you’re up watching TV. Maybe you’re asleep. Maybe Ferrell is in a panic, disoriented, hurt, distraught, pissed off–who knows? The lady of the residence–does she open the door and see a young Black man standing there pleading for help or does she look out the peephole and see a young Black man–maybe bloody and disheveled and looking like he just crawled out of the wreckage of a smashed car–banging the hell out of her door?
What would you do? Open the door? Let a total stranger in your home at an ungodly hour? Grab your gun and tell him to get the hell off of your property? Call the cops?
Next is where it all goes ass end up.
About 2:30 a.m., three Hickory Grove division officers responded to the call – Kerrick, 27, who’s been an officer since April 2011; Thornell Little, who joined the department in April 1998; and Adam Neal, who’s been an officer since May 2008.
They encountered Ferrell a short distance from the home, police said. As the officers got out of their car, “Mr. Ferrell immediately ran toward the officers,” according to a police statement. It said Ferrell moved toward Kerrick.
Little fired his Taser, but police said it was unsuccessful.
Police said Kerrick fired “several” rounds, striking Ferrell “multiple times.” He died at the scene.
Police gave no additional details Sunday.
Ferrell had no criminal record in North Carolina and a 2011 misdemeanor charge in Florida that was dismissed.
I’m going to assume Ferrell saw the cops roll up. Maybe the thought went through his mind, “Oh thank heaven. The cops are here.”
It’s 2:30 a.m. It’s night, there are street lights for illumination and the cops have flashlights. But they don’t know they’re responding to an accident scene. They are responding to a 911 call of a stranger rapping on a door.
Maybe he’s just drunk or stoned or mental. Maybe he’s dangerous.
You can’t assume good intentions.
Ferrell runs toward the cops. Is he shouting “Help me!” Is he cursing and making threats? Is he screaming incoherently? Does he have blood on his face, body and clothes from the crash or breaking out the back window of the car and crawling out?
The woman called 911 and reported Ferrell as attempting to break in her home. That would change the perception of the responding officers that they were looking for a suspect, not a victim.
Who’s got time to wonder? This guy is running toward you. Maybe it looks like he’s charging you. You’ve told him to stop, raise your hands, lie on the ground, but he’s still coming! Don’t take any chances!
One cop pulls his Taser and tries to hit Ferrell with it. No good. It doesn’t work! He’s still coming!
Kerrick pulls his gun and fires “several” rounds and hits Ferrell “multiple” times. He dies at the scene.
This is where I stop assuming. The several rounds and multiple times turned out to be ten shots. Pure and total overkill. That wasn’t stopping a suspect. That was an execution.
Why would Ferrell “charge” the cops? What does “move toward Kerrick” mean? Did Ferrell have something in his hands? Something that could be confused as a weapon? Was it something he said? Was he running toward the cops at all?
Two experts who study police use of force told the Observer on Sunday that they had never seen a police officer charged so swiftly in a shooting.
“That’s unheard of,” said Mike Bumcrot, a California-based consultant with the Police Policy Studies Council. He’s also a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective. “I was pretty dumbfounded.”
Bumcrot said internal affairs and homicide investigations into police shootings typically take weeks.
“I’ve never seen it happen that fast,” said Bumcrot. “The only thing I can figure is the officer must have made some statement … that really put him in a bind.”
Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology, said it’s “very rare” for a police officer to be charged with a criminal offense for using a weapon in the line of duty. Internal discipline, up to being fired, is much more common.
“I’ve never seen a criminal charge that quickly,” said Alpert. “Normally it takes a lot longer to figure out what happened.“
Alpert said that the quick charging time could be completely reasonable, based on what investigators found.
“There’s no standard time,” he said. He said a criminal charge is “reserved for really extreme cases.”
I’d say this case qualifies as “really extreme.”
Is the Charlotte police department avoiding any charges of “cover-up” by so swiftly charging Kerrick with a crime or are they insulating themselves from a wrongful death lawsuit and throwing a rookie cop to the wolves?
Why did police initially describe Kerrick’s shooting of Ferrell as “appropriate and lawful,” but later change their tune to “excessive?”
So many questions. So few answers.
I’d like to be fair. I’d like to be reasonable. I’d like to assume this was simply a case of a bad accident that spiraled into a horrible tragedy.
I’d like that. But that requires a degree of objectivity I ‘m not certain I should extend to Kerrick and the other cops.
Jonathan Ferrell was not given the benefit of the doubt and he was presumed guilty (of something) and a trigger-happy cop overreacted and killed an innocent man.
Now we arrive to the question nobody really wants to ask: Does the race of Ferrell and Kerrick factor into this?
This is America. How could it not?
- White Cop Kills Unarmed Black Man Seeking Help After He Was In A Car Crash (thesterlingroad.com)
- US cop shot unarmed man 10 times (news.com.au)
- Police Shoot, Kill Unarmed Former Football Player Who May Have Been Seeking Help After A Car Crash (thinkprogress.org)